Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 3

Chapter 3

 

Once Betty closed the door behind me, I stood in the doorway for a moment, thinking about what she’d said. I just wanted you to be happy.

I pressed a hand to my neck, finding my necklace. It was a thin chain with a single pearl as the pendant. On the day of our pre-contract, when my father had of course accepted his offer and I’d swallowed my tongue and done the same, he’d given it to me before he left our house. I know you don’t have a deep, great love for me, he’d said as he clasped it around my neck. But I’ll take care of you. When you’re my wife, and I’ll keep you safe and fed. After he’d left, I’d shoved it in my trunk and curled in my bed sobbing while my sister Thea pestered me to tell her what was wrong. And when everyone was asleep I’d run to Betty’s house with tears still clouding my vision, breathless and heaving with grief, vowing never to wear that damn necklace. But when he came to visit again I had to put it on, and eventually I learned to find comfort in it. He had made good on his promise. I was never afraid and my belly never growled with hunger. So, since the day of our wedding, I hadn’t taken the necklace off.

Before I knew it, I had ambled home with three large bottles of cream in hand. “The change,” I told Jasper, dropping the coins in his hand. He knew exactly how much the cream cost, yet he always gave me extra money. Maybe he intended for me to keep it, I didn’t know, but I never did. Though it was easy to forget it, he owned everything from my quill pen to the clothes on my back. What was a few coins to me?

The Tories were here tonight. A handful of them, crowding a table in the corner. I had no desire to serve them, and it appeared Jasper already had, so I tried to stay away, but at one point a shy couple sat down a few tables away and I served them goblets of flip. At least the Tories wouldn’t drink flip, which we were running out of until Robby was done mixing the next batch, and knowing that boy, it wouldn’t be a quick wait. No, the late-night men always wanted rattle-skull, a disgustingly hard drink that only a soldier could develop a taste for. We could make plenty of other drinks just as potent, but since they’d started to become regulars, they ordered a round of that every time they came in. Perhaps because the name was an English word, as Jasper told me. And that was fine with me, if they were talking about drinks, but if they called me poppet I’d pour my pitcher down their coats.

“We’ll get better spirits than this once the boat comes in,” one of them said.

“Shh!”

“Oh, shut it. Nobody’s listening.”

“Maybe, but don’t go running your mouth about it. How do you think the others always get intercepted?”

“‘Cause the captains are fools and they take bribes. No, this captain is a friend of a friend, and my friend swears this one will make it through.”

“I’ll believe it when I’ve got a bottle in my hands. And some bread, too, you think? What exactly is on that boat?”

“Hell if I know all of it. All I know is it’ll come in bales of hay.”

“To look like something the colonists are smuggling in? Brilliant.”

“God, I can’t wait to finally taste some damn gin. Can’t get it here - everything the Yankees make is from corn or grass.”

“It’s like the blasted Irish. If I wanted to drink whiskey all day I would have crossed the Irish Sea, not the whole bloody Atlantic.”

The others roared. At that point, I’d scooted away to serve other customers. If they didn’t like our spirits, they could march their lobster legs right out of our bar and save us the trouble. Anyway, they didn’t drink nearly as much as the colonists - the drinks back in England must have been three-quarters water, because even when they ordered our harder varieties, they could barely finish a cup. In the time they’d been nursing a single goblet each and yammering about American whiskey, a colonist could have downed three rattle-skulls. Jasper, in all his talk about how they were good customers, apparently hadn’t considered that they spent much less on drink than the patriots he deemed too rowdy.

“Aye,” one of them called as I distanced myself, “come back, you.”

I didn’t have a choice, really. I told Betty that Jasper had never belted me, and that was true, but if I started being rude to customers I might have to eat those words. “More?” I asked.

“Not any of this American dung. You have gin?”

“Not since the harbor closed in ‘75, no.”

“What, you think I’ll tell my superiors?” he laughed, gesturing to his fellows as he leaned in closer. “Look at us. We’re just a group of fellows who want a good drink, for once.”

“If we had gin, we would most certainly serve it to you, sir. I’m afraid it’s impossible to get nowadays.”

“Maybe you’ll give us something else to compensate,” the one replied, giving me that sort of look, and the others hooted and smirked.

Best to play stupid. “Did you want straight rum, then? Perhaps something to eat?”

“Don’t be a fool, girl,” he hissed. “Your husband ever share?” When I didn’t move, he leaned in closer, tugging on my hip. “Maybe for a man who’ll pay?”

“I - can’t - sir,” I squirmed. My tavern is known as a respectable place, Jasper had said upon showing it to me the very first time. I like to keep it that way. And yet this man’s face was very close to my hip, and there was nothing respectable about it.

“Well, then.” He let me go, but not before pressing a gold coin in my hand. British money - as if I had any use for that. “Next time.”

Back in the kitchen, Jasper touched my arm. I jumped a little. “You all right?”

“Fine,” I said. “A little tired.”

“Don’t run off on social calls before the night rush, then.” I couldn’t tell if he was serious. “Check on the men there, make sure they get refills. I don’t want you ignoring them just because you like to get political.”

I nodded.

“And remember to get firewood before we retire for the night. The fire’s been going out quick now that it’s getting colder, and I won’t have everybody’s toes turning blue.”

I nodded again.

“Hey, Luce,” he said before I left with the broom. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Once more, I nodded.